I’ve just returned from training a very talented team of sales development (SDRs) and quota-bearing reps that are engaged with a company that sells software development tools and platforms. In my training course, we tackle some interesting ways to probe for more information when the prospect offers the objection “I don’t need it,” because he or she is already using something that is doing the job, adequately or inadequately.
When the prospect offers this objection, I ask the rep to use a two-part question:
1) What do you like about what you’re using?
2) If you could “wave the magic wand, how could it be better than it already is?”
The first question puts the prospect at ease, because instead of the rep “feature dumping,” he or she is showing that the objection was noted and addressed, and it allows the prospect to say great things about the solution in place. The second question is a positive way of asking the negative question “What don’t you like?” And often, the prospect spills it all out, and often provides clues that will actually re-open the sales process. Those clues are often laden with words such as “frustrating,” “annoying,” or “undesirable.” A great response to those clue words is “Tell me more about that.”
In one of our coaching sessions, where we make calls to actual prospects, the rep asked those two questions, and during the answer to the second question, the prospect said “actually, things could always be better.” But guess what? The rep didn’t ask “How?” or “tell me more about that” and instead dropped the call. Ouch, opportunity missed (we suggest an immediate callback in these situations, to uncover the issue and explore more).
The term “Active Listening” refers to a technique in which the rep temporarily tosses aside what he or she really wants to say, and instead probes for more information, based on what the prospect just stated. In the case above, there might have been a whole slew of data the rep could have used to get the prospect to agree to a meeting (which was the objective of this SDR call). Not listening to and addressing clues the prospect is proving isn’t just something done by less-experienced reps, either. Plenty of experienced reps run into this issue as well, and much of the time, it stems from being so enthusiastic about our solution that we just can’t wait to tell the prospect everything about it, ad infinitum.
So for today, concentrate on really listening to what the prospect is saying, hold back on “feature dumping,” and addressing those clues. In doing so, you’ll build rapport, better understand the prospect’s environment, and quite possibly evolve a “dead” lead into a full-fledged prospect. Add “active listening” to your Best Practices Playbook.
Every week, it seems, I end up discussing the make-up of today’s insides sales and sales development reps, while talking about our inside sales training courses. More than a few managers are wrestling with the challenges in working with Millennials, reps that were born roughly between the years 1977 and 1994. They grew up in the internet age, are savvy about tools and techniques associated with electronic media, and have their own opinions about things, which they aren’t afraid to voice.
What’s particularly interesting about Millennial employees is how much alike they are to the Baby Boomers during the Vietnam era. Neil Blumenthal, CEO of Warby Parker eyewear and a Millennial himself, noted a few tips recently about working with Millennials. As quoted in Inc. Magazine, he eschews the idea that they’re “entitled,” mentions that they work well in an environment with a strong mission statement that embraces social values, while needing to understand how their work translates into the “big picture.” Sounds exactly like their Baby Boomer and Generation X (born 1966-1976) predecessors, when they were below thirty years of age. In a few years, the Millennials, too, will be managing the next generation (or already
are). In essence, today’s Millennials are just like we Baby Boomers and Generation Xers were when we were that age. We just added a few birthdays.
As I tell the managers with whom I work, Millennials are terrific. They’re extraordinarily smart and motivated. They want to make the world a better place, and need to see their 40 hours as benefitting themselves, their prospects and customers, and their world. One of the basics of our training courses is that you’ve got to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and to understand their business challenges. When you do, you can present solutions that actually ean something to them, instead of feature dumping and “pushing product.” Millennials inherently understand this, and do a great job in selling to people in a way that they’d prefer to be sold themselves. To do this, they need to understand and embrace your management philosophy. So yes, they’ll challenge you. That’s good for you, and your company. The world is evolving too rapidly for anyone to stand in one place too long. They’re going to make you a better manager.
So if you’re a little bit older than your team and managing Millennial employees, my recommendation is that you try to remember what you were like and what motivated you when you were that age. If you do, I think you’ll agree with both Neil Blumenthal and I. Millennials are terrific workers and bring tremendous social, cultural, and business value to the companies for whom they work. You’re fortunate to have them working with you.
Rob is a terrific rep that just went through my inside sales training class, and one of his first calls afterward was to the CIO of a huge company that’s a household name, but has been struggling over the past few years. Rob sells disaster recovery solutions, had a great opening line, and had a good call objective: he was going to fully qualify or disqualify the opportunity on that very call. Rob asked the right questions, but there was no opportunity. When began to ask “one last question,” the CIO hung up on him. Rob was a bit down after the call. He shouldn’t have been, it was a great call!
He’d reached a C-level person, had a conversation, and disqualified the opportunity. As I told Rob, not everyone will become a customer. He’d gotten the information from the top IT person in the enterprise, too. Frankly, if the target company had more sales reps like Rob, it might not be in the doldrums it's in these days.
We live in a world where people don’t return calls, don’t read emails, don’t listen to voicemails, and aren’t there when they told us to call back. Welcome to inside sales. Things haven’t changed much in the past thirty years, either. People are busy, and we’re all trying to get mindshare. Which is why it’s critical to fully qualify the prospect on the first call. It may be the only conversation you’ll ever have with that individual, so I teach inside reps in my classes that you’ve got to do it in eight minutes or fewer. If you reschedule that call instead of quickly and efficiently qualifying, chances are good that he or she won’t be there at the appointed time. Something else cropped up.
This is especially important on the first inbound call the prospect makes to your company. What prompted the call? Today, all prospects are pretty smart. When they’re looking for a solution, they’ll do a web search on a topic, and if your marketing team uses good SEO (search engine optimization) techniques on your company’s website, they’ll find you. They’ll then call or send an email. If they call, you’ve got a very short window in which to determine the need, how big the need is, when they have to have it, what the decision process is, and how they’ll budget for it. It’s “showtime,” and you’re on stage. If you receive an email, they’ll want a response. But if you send them a comprehensive email, there’s no reason for them to talk to you. Better call them instead. They want something from you, and as long as they do, they’re willing to talk. That’s a quid pro quo close on taking your call.
I always interview the reps I train before I build their training classes, as I want to know what frustrates them in terms of prospect interactions. At the top of the list is “I had a conversation, but the prospect never returned my calls after that.” And nine times out of ten, the rep didn’t ask all the qualification questions he or she needed to ask on that first call, so the prospect then sat in limbo, and couldn’t be added to the qualified pipeline.
So please, hunker down and treat the first call like it’s the only call you have. Much of the time it will be. But if you do a great job of qualifying, really dig into the reason the prospect says he or she needs your solution, and spend more time talking about the prospect company than about your own, you’ll be in a situation in which the prospect will want to talk with you again.
So go ahead this week and add always completely qualifying on the first call to your Best Practices Playbook.
Last week, I trained a wonderful team selling backup and recovery solutions in the U.S. They’ve got loads of referenceable accounts, too, some really big names. In our coaching sessions, I found out that some of their biggest customers were household names, but guess what? Several of these accounts were sold by their European team. And the U.S-based counterparts to these huge customers hadn’t been contacted yet, so hadn’t adopted the technology! In other words, great same-enterprise testimonials hadn’t been used, so the wonderful selling job the EMEA team did wasn’t being leveraged by the U.S. team.
This situation isn’t particular to the U.S., either. EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) and APAC (Asia-Pacific) reps can and should be leveraging successful U.S. sales to contact their country-specific counterparts as well.
So here’s my recommendation for this week. Take a good look at large companies that your company lists as being customers. Are they customers in your area as well? If not, contact them right away, mention that the company is already a customer, and get the folks not yet using your solution to adopt it. As part of your pre-call research, you might even want to
contact the rep that sold the solution originally, and ask a bit about how the customer is using your solution, which can provide you with terrific information you can use when you talk to the new prospect.
Sometimes we focus so hard on getting new companies on board that we forget to do the obvious. Selling international enterprises on solutions they’ve already adopted in one geographical area is a must: one of your international colleagues has already done a lot of the hard work for you.
So go ahead this week and add leveraging existing sales to international companies operating in your area to your Best Practices Playbook.
From today’s mailbag: Mary writes about a common objection that is as old as inside sales: “How would I be able to handle or answer an objection if asked by the customer, e.g. 'Send me all the information via email'” ?
It’s critical to determine if there’s real interest in what you’re selling, or if you’re just getting the “brush off.” In our inside sales training courses, this is something we always cover, so here’s a great way to handle it. I tell the prospect that I don’t want to overload him or her with information, so I’ll use the following.
“I don’t want to email you a lot of information that may overload you, so let me ask you this. We make software development tools that can dramatically decrease the time it takes to get your product to market [replace that with a quick explanation of what you do and how it could be of benefit, one phrase only]. Is this something you might be looking for in the next several months?”
The answer will be yes or no.
- If yes, “OK, one last question. What will you be looking for, and when do you want to have it on board?” This typically leads to a longer discussion, will allow you to fully qualify the prospect, and will make you follow-up email more compelling. If he or she is looking, it’s pretty
common for the call to continue, and you can further qualify.
- If no. “We know sometimes things change as conditions evolve. I’d like to contact your main software guru so I can let him or her know what we’re doing, and how we might be able to assist [name of the prospect company] to potentially streamline your development environment. Who would that be?"
In terms of the “no” answer, you could be at the wrong level (did you remember to begin by “calling high?”) If you’re at the wrong level, your email will probably not get read. But if you can get the name of the person at the company that serves as the in-house expert on your technology (the guru), then you’ll be talking to the person that has the ear of the right
When you get initially rebuffed with “send me an email,” you always get to ask “one more question” before you go. “Here’s what we do, are you looking, and when?” can easily be asked, and you will get an answer. Make it compelling. Replace my software development-related text with words relating to your own solutions, and you’ll get further in the call.
This technique works well over 50% of the time (more like 95%), so add this technique to your Best Practices Playbook and use it consistently.
With several notable exceptions, it’s the nature of my business in the inside sales training world to come in, teach a class, and leave. But I won’t accept the business unless there’s something in place after I leave that will reinforce the curriculum after I’m gone, and I don’t mean “report cards.” I teach managers to coach their reps side by side during actual calls. This fosters team communication, and also gives each rep an opportunity to get a win in front of the person to whom he or she reports.
I want to share with you what happened when one of my clients violated this rule. They’re suffering a bit for it right now, and I’m going to try to help them to fix it. Describing how they dropped the ball might help you to avoid doing the same.
We trained a number of reps as well as their managers, and gained agreement from the managers that they’d set up a coaching schedule and keep to it. Reps would be coached during actual calls once per week. Within two months, the numbers were up, some extra work was dedicated to reps that needed a little extra hand-holding, and the stock price soared, too. Everyone was making money.
Within a year or so, the management structure changed, new managers were brought on board, and the coaching largely ground to a halt. Today, the number s are suffering, and the company is trying to regain control. This past week, I had a talk with the recently-arrived VP, and we discussed why the team that overachieved sales targets so well in the past was under-performing now. Wasn’t the training very good? As I explained, any company that buys training without reinforcement in place is wasting its money. Without coaching, it’s my belief that many reps revert to what’s easiest, rather than focusing on behaviors that will make them (and the company) money, but can be challenging. Calling high is one example to behavior that can be challenging. So is focusing the conversation on the prospect’s business, rather than on what the rep is trying to sell him or her.
So this post is essentially about guarding against being lazy. It’s easy to get lackadaisical when applying best practices has resulted in the money rolling in and everyone always in celebration mode. And when that happens, the important things that made the inside team successful get pushed aside during the euphoria. Judging by the increase in the stock price after my training, I think that’s exactly what happened with my client. The stock remains hightoday, but management is hearing footprints. That’s good for them, so they can fix the problem while the company is still on a roll.
To avoid this problem, add continual, ongoing coaching to your Best Practices Playbook. If you’re a manager, keep to your coaching schedule, and maintain it even when your reps are successful. And if you’re a rep that’s being coached, don’t let your manager off the hook if he or she misses a coaching session: it’s worth a discussion to get things back on track.
When discussing my inside sales training courses with potential clients, I’m often asked about the educational theories that I practice. Before my career in high tech, I taught public education courses for special needs children. Typically, my students had challenges in learning, often exacerbated by communication and attention challenges. A lot of what I discovered while teaching my students I put in practice today (believe me, no one dozes in my inside sales classes.)
Today I want to discuss some important motivational theories from educator Madeline C. Hunter of UCLA, who passed away in 1994, but whose teachings resound today. Although this post is primarily dedicated to Inside Sales Managers, it applies to everyone. Hunter was a teacher, and it was critical to her that learning was reinforced on a consistent basis. Here are four of her most important concepts, along with a few comments from me, all applicable to optimal inside sales performance:
1) Regularly scheduled reinforcement leads to rapid learning. I’ve always advocated coaching your reps on a regular basis. Scheduling coaching sessions on the calendar ensures that they will actually occur, and not be sidetracked by other issues.
2) Intermittent reinforcement leads to remembering. When you’re not actively coaching, be sure to occasionally reinforce important sales and qualification concepts. I’ve always liked “lunch and learns” as a great way to intermittently reinforce.
3) Positive reinforcement is critical. Negative reinforcement tells the rep what not to do, while positive reinforcement tells the learner what to do. One of the ways I like to positively reinforce during a coaching session is to use the words “Here’s what you can do to make that last call even more powerful.” That way, I’m focusing on the rep’s success instead of what he or she failed to do.
4) Reinforcement must be appropriate to the learner. You have a diverse group of personalities on your team, and they are each intrinsically motivated in different ways. And they may have different cultural backgrounds, too. Some like to be publically praised, while others may be embarrassed if they’re singled out in front of the group, even for successes. So make an attempt to understand how each member of your team relates to public praise. You can easily pose this question during individual performance reviews, and knowing this information can improve overall team communication, too. For another idea, several managers I know post weekly and monthly sales results on a white board, good for some internal competition, and it also lets under-performing reps understand what they’ll need to work on for continued success. The board speaks for itself, and can keep management from making cultural faux pas that could make good performers cringe.
As a manager, you’re also an educator. There’s a lot to digest in Dr. Hunter’s four points, and education is always an ongoing process. So I encourage you to think through what Madeline C. Hunter has to say, and add her precepts to your Best Management Playbook.
Francisco, a terrific veteran rep who took my inside sales training class a few years ago, is one month into his brand new quota-bearing inside sales job, and already he regrets taking it. “How could I have avoided this? I thought I’d asked everything in the interview!” He told me the story, and I’ll admit it, his dilemma was a new one on me, too. Here’s his story, and following that, some ideas to help ensure that it doesn’t happen to you, too.
Francisco accepted a job with a company selling a software solution, and its recently-introduced SaaS iteration. His team was tasked with selling the SaaS solution. After one week on the job, he found out that:
1) The field sales team had the right to take any of Francisco’s leads and sell the opportunity. Naturally, they took all the big ones. When they converted to a sale, Francisco got no commission.
2) The Sales Development Reps (SDRs) made the determination of whether to forward the lead to inside sales or field sales.
3) The SDRs were only commissioned on sales made by the field. They were not commissioned on sales made by Inside Sales (guess who got all the good leads?).
4) One of Francisco’s prospects wanted to see a white paper on the SaaS solution. There wasn’t one. When Francisco asked Marketing to create one, they responded that the company hadn’t yet determined that the SaaS product was worth putting money into. The company considered SaaS to be an unproven technology (!), and wanted the inside team to “prove” they could sell it before any marketing resources would be contributed. After expressing concerns about this with the rest of his SaaS inside sales colleaugues, he found that all they worked on were smaller opportunities, and even though they were closing, they weren’t making any money. They were all considering leaving.
OK readers, come up for air yet? When you’re interviewing, you really don’t consider asking if your sales team is considered an “experiment,” do you? And you don’t expect field sales will cherry-pick your best opportunities, do you? And you don’t expect the relationship with your SDRs will be adversarial from the beginning, do you? There’s a lot to remember as you interview for an inside sales position. But if Francisco had asked the following questions, he probably would have smelled a rat:
1) Describe the marketing programs that you are using to support the product I’ll be selling.
2) When the SDR develops a lead, who does he or she pass it to, and what criteria does he or she use to determine who it gets passed to?
3) How do SDRs accrue commissions or bonuses? Describe any SDR leads that do not accrue a commission or bonus for them.
4) When will I get paid my commissions? (This is my own favorite, and it fleshes out situations in which you only get paid when your company gets paid; you might have made the sale, but if the customer pays late, you take the hit, not your company. And you can be guaranteed that when you leave the company, you’ll have accrued commissions on which you’ll never get paid).
What makes the inside sales business fascinating is that you really do hear something new every day. I try to help good people to avoid working for companies with poor business practices, and loads of prospective and current inside sales reps have downloaded my Getting hired for your ultimate inside sales job! whitepaper. This week, I’ll be adding those “Francisco” questions to that document.
Have fun, enjoy your work, but if your company isn’t measuring up, have a look around. But as this post emphasizes, do your best to ensure that you make as informed a choice as possible.
“We need to do a better job of identifying the decision process and developing org charts to support it,” I was told by a VP of Sales at a well-regarded high technology company recently. That’s an important element to qualifying prospect accounts, and something we cover in our inside sales training courses. If you can identify with this VP’s concerns, here are 8 tips that you can put to use today to fix the problem and get your orders in faster:
1) Understand that there’s a difference between the Decision process and the Approval process. The Decision team arrives determines the technical solution under consideration, but it still has to be paid for. That’s where the Approval team comes in. All players need to be identified.
2) We always believe in beginning the qualification and sales process by calling high, generally to the CXO ultimately responsible to the decision, where we can gather important information on the initiative driving the interest. Or we create one. From that point, we’re often referred to the lower-level people chartered with gathering data and recommending the solution.
3) If you elected to start at a lower level, you’ll need to determine the higher-ups that will need to sign off on it. If you started lower, a good way to ask this question is: “If we were to draw a line from your desk to the CEO, what other individuals would also need to approve it?” That’s an effective and non-threatening way to get the names you need. If you don’t get names, get the titles. You can then fill in the names by doing an intelligent search on LinkedIn.
4) The Approval process always involves the financial side, which includes the CFO, and often a Purchasing Manager or Purchasing Agent. So be sure to ask a question such as “Once it’s approved by the Decision team, tell me how the funding is approved from the financial side of the house.”
5) A good rule of thumb is that any purchase over $30,000 must be signed off by the CFO. There are valid reasons for this. Among them is the fact that the CFO may elect to put the purchase under a different budget category, especially toward the end of the financial year, when unspent funds can be re-allocated. Expect that the CFO will always be involved.
6) Most companies have a “wall” between the decision team and the financial team. The reason for this is that the decision team knows it needs the solution, but Finance is going to figure out how much it wants to pay. Since price negotiation is a big part of the responsibility of Finance, they don’t want decision folks to be bugging them about timelines for implementation. In many companies, once the decision to adopt the solution has been determined, it’s taboo for decision folks to talk to anyone in Finance during the negotiations.
7) When your PO is “stuck,” much of the time it’s because the negotiation process is underway. And when a timeline for implementation is critical, if often takes a high-level discussion between the VP of the Decision team and the VP of Finance or the CFO to unstick it. People with the title of Manager often have to take it up to their Directors and VPs, make their cases, and ask the VP to “walk it over the wall.”
8) This underscores the importance of knowing everyone on the decision team and having had discussions with the appropriate VP or CXO. You’ll also need to know who, on the Financial Approval team, will be addressing your paperwork. If you don’t have org chart software, draw the org chart with boxes and lines graphically, with dotted lines going over the Financial “wall” if necessary. Drawing a quick chart can help you to ensure that you’re aware of everyone involved.
Follow these 8 tips, and you’ll know everything that’s important in getting your order, and you’ll never be blindsided by someone in the decision or approval process you weren’t aware of. Add these important tips to your Best Practices Playbook.
Presidents’ Day is like a lot of other holidays for me, a great time to clean up my desk, go through old stacks, and dust a few hidden spots. The phone won’t ring, so I can actually get it done. There were a couple of ancient proposals on my desk that hadn’t come to fruition, too. I always archive my old “no-go” proposals in my database, so I decided to go through them all, and see what ever happened to the people who’d asked for the proposals in the first place.
Let me tell you about them. These people were all pretty good folks, but they just couldn’t get funding for my inside sales training courses. I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of them. A bunch of them have moved to other companies, where they ended up getting funding, then finally were able to work with us. But other people I’d lost track of. I looked them all up on LinkedIn, and they’re with some really dynamic companies now. So I’m contacting them all this week to say hello and to see what’s up.
If you’re a quota-bearing rep, you’re going to have a file of dead proposals, maybe even dating back to other companies for whom you’ve worked. We salespeople tend to be so engaged with what’s currently on the plate that we forget what happened three, or five, or eight years ago. Today, it’s so easy to make and keep business connections that it makes sense to review those old proposals and find out what’s happening with your old contacts. You put a lot of work into those proposals that didn’t go anywhere. And it could still be productive.
Next time you get a couple of free hours, why not go through those old proposals? And why not re-establish a business friendship? Evolving technology has made doing this easier than ever. Go through those old files and call some old acquaintances. The landscape might have changed to the extent that you can rekindle some old interest. And I guarantee that you’ll be surprised at where some of your old contacts have ended up.